Stamped Portraits: Make Custom Rubber Stamps from Photos

Thanks to my mom and uncle who were both camera hounds, I have many, many old family photos. In the past I've scanned or copied them to create cards, garlands, ornaments, and so on for family members.

portrait rubber stamp by julie fei fan balzer
Collaged tag with custom rubber
stamp by Julie Fei-Fan Balzer.

I never thought of using photos as the basis for rubber stamp carving until I saw how Julie Fei-Fan Balzer created a tag collage using a hand-carved portrait stamp.

You use the same technique for carving a custom rubber stamp from a photo as you do for other designs. But choosing and preparing the photo and image is crucial to success, according to Julie in her book Carve Stamp Play: Designing and Creating Custom Stamps.

Here are some tips for selecting a photo that will make a good rubber stamp:

  • The photos that work best have a strong source of light from one direction that creates distinct shadowing.
  • Facial features should be well defined and not washed out.
  • The photo should be in focus.
  • The photo should be high quality. Photos downloaded from the Internet don't work as well as photos straight from your camera.
  • The photos that work best include the subject's entire head (including the top of the head) and some of his or her shoulders.

To prepare the image using photo-editing software, follow Julie's instructions:

(Note: These instructions are for Photoshop CS6. Other image-editing programs have similar functions. You might simply need to play around a bit to find what works.)

adjusted image for custom rubber stamp
Julie erased the background (and additional person) from the photo, then adjusted it to highlight the shadows.

1. Convert the photo to black and white: Image > Adjustments > Black & White.

2. Erase any extraneous background using the Eraser and Crop tools (figure 2).

3. If necessary, darken the photo a bit with the Curves tool: Image > Adjustments > Curves.

4. Visit the Filter Gallery: Filter > Filter Gallery.

5. Choose the Cutout Filter: Artistic > Cutout. Keep the number of layers to 2 or 3 and then press "okay." (figure 3).

If you don't have access to image-editing software, you can create a design by hand. Place a piece of tracing paper over the photo and carefully trace the shadowed edges.

The stamp itself makes a great gift, or you can use it to personalize stationery, invitations, or gift tags.

Now I know how I'm going to be using my family photos in the next few weeks: using stamping techniques from Carve Stamp Play.

P.S. How would you use a portrait stamp? Leave your answer below.



Blog, Mixed-Media Techniques


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